Gateway Motorsports Park is quickly becoming the home of action motorsports in America, with everything from the Verizon IndyCar Series to a new Formula Drift event that joined the series this year. But today’s action at Gateway ups the horsepower count even higher as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series begins elimination rounds at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, the second of six rounds in the 2018 Countdown to the Championship.
As always, 16 drivers will enter the bracket in the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes today, but only one driver or rider in each will end the weekend with a Wally. Here’s what we’ll be following along with as the world’s best drag racers settle things amongst themselves:
Who has the best shot of catching up to Steve Torrence this weekend?
Opening the Countdown with a victory, and qualifying first at Gateway, made the statement that Torrence Racing was looking for: we’re here to stay, and we’re not giving this championship up easily after last year’s runner-up finish. But top 2018 rival Clay Millican sits second on the ladder and will have his own hot rod under him, and Don Schumacher Racing’s Leah Pritchett ran four consecutive three-second passes in qualifying to land fifth on the ladder, the next best Countdown-eligible qualifier.
Does Robert Hight have what it takes to earn a win from atop the Funny Car ladder?
The numbers on Hight’s weekend, and season, suggest a driver atop his game. He posted a time of 3.844 in qualifying to top the Funny Car ladder for today’s eliminations. His 3.995 e.t. average is best in the class, and his success percentage (getting down the track faster than 4.19 seconds) is 60.2—nearly eight percent better than the class average. But anything can happen in drag racing, and so it did last time out at Reading: Hight committed his first foul of the 2018 season to end his hopes at a victory.
Which low-qualifying playoff contender can make lemonade from lemons?
In Funny Car, three Countdown drivers—John Force, Shawn Langdon, and Matt Hagan—qualified ninth, 10th, and 11th to have to give up lane choice in the first round. All will face fellow Countdown drivers (Jack Beckman, JR Todd, and Tim Wilkerson, respectively) to try and move on. But Top Fuel driver Terry McMillen has it even worse, posting the 13th-best time to line up against Blake Alexander in the first round, and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Scotty Pollacheck lines up 12th against the surging Matt Smith.